June 07 2007 - $1B Florida lawsuit claims tobacco companies meticulously marketed to black communities

A $1 billion lawsuit filed on Wednesday on behalf of a Broward County, Fla., family in Miami-Dade Circuit Court alleges that tobacco companies "meticulously planned and executed [marketing campaigns] with clear racist intent," the St. Petersburg Times reports. The "lawsuit is among what is expected to become a torrent of cases filed as offshoots of a 1994 tobacco lawsuit known as the Engle case." In that case, the Florida Supreme Court found tobacco companies guilty of fraud and negligence but stated that plaintiffs must file individual claims for damages, according to the Times.

Wednesday's lawsuit was filed by Gloria Tucker on behalf of the estates of her grandmother -- Annie Mae Swain, who died in 1994 -- and mother -- Dorothy Oliver, who died in 2000 of acute cardiopulmonary failure and other cardiovascular conditions. The lawsuit states that tobacco companies marketed cigarettes with "complete and utter disregard for health and human safety and in a systematic and deliberate manner meant to addict and ultimately kill as many smokers as possible, especially African-Americans." Philip Morris USA, Lorillard Tobacco, R.J. Reynolds and Liggett Group are named in the lawsuit .
Citing government and marketing plan documents from the tobacco companies, Tucker's attorney claims that high numbers of billboards were placed in black neighborhoods and that tobacco companies paid above-market rates to advertise in black-focused publications, such as Ebony/Jet and Essence. Further, the companies used "unflattering generalizations about African-Americans and suggested recruiting black smokers through -- among other venues -- black churches, night clubs and traffic court," the suit says, the Broward Times reports.

According to the suit, the tobacco companies "knowingly besieged the most vulnerable and beleaguered segments of society, including the least educated, poor, inner-city African-Americans, many on public support, including food stamps."

In a statement released by Philip Morris, the company said that it "believes it is premature to comment on any specific lawsuits filed that are linked to the Engle case because the company currently is seeking further review of the Engle decision by the U.S. Supreme Court," adding, "However, if any individual cases do proceed, the company intends to vigorously defend them"
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